Saunders clinches Euro crown
Billy Joe Saunders' dream of becoming the first traveller to win a world title proved to be alive and well as he despatched Emanuele Blandamura to win the vacant European middleweight title.
At just 24 years of age the 2008 Olympian has already established himself as the country's best at domestic level, owning the British title.
Topping the bill in Manchester after the heavyweight match between Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora was scrapped, he made another significant step up, stopping his Italian opponent in the eighth round to claim the respected continental belt and move himself a step closer to a world title crack.
Saunders (19-0, 10KO wins) was eager to impress against 34-year-old Blandamura (22-0, 5KOs), who was unbeaten coming in but having never faced anyone of note.
The southpaw looked slick as usual in the opening stages at the Phones4u Arena and a southpaw right looked hurtful in the second, only for Blandamura to bounce back with an immediate counter.
Saunders seemed to be boxing within himself and was well ahead by the middle stages, though he did not have it all his own way.
The Brit's occasional bolo punches were decent but rarely built upon, though his timing was impressive as usual.
The action livened a little in the seventh as Saunders - who had failed to knock out his four previous opponents - engaged in more of a fight with Blandamura, himself with an unintimidating stoppage record. A southpaw one-two landed on the Italian nicely but that was easily the highlight.
It all changed in the eighth. After another scrappy period, Saunders pulled out a sublime right hook to leave Blandamura senseless on the ropes.
The Englishman, smelling blood, charged forward and landed again as French referee Robin Delpierre moved in to administer a standing count. However, the Italian corner threw the towel in when they saw their man in dire straights and the official waved the fight off.
Saunders immediately called out middleweight rival Chris Eubank Jr, who was also on the Manchester card and dispatched Ivan Jukic in the first round..
"It was a bit of a letdown of a fight," he said.
"My timing was a bit out after 10 months out but I landed the shot."
He added: "If Eubank wants the fight and he's got a pair, let's fight. If he wants it, let him get in the ring."
Eubank overwhelmed Jukic to take his record to 17-0 (12KOs) after dropping his opponent twice with heavy-handed attacks to head and body.
After the fight, Chris Eubank Sr told BoxNation: “This man’s [Eubank Jr] going to be better than Floyd Mayweather Jr. He’s going to change the game.”
Eubank Jr added: “I’m going to have the British title in my hands in the next four months.”
Also on the undercard, Liam Smith pulled out a shot from nowhere in the sixth to keep his British light-middleweight title against midlander Jason Welborn.
Welborn, from Rowley Regis, had been impressing the crowd with his intelligent pressure until Scouser Smith uncorked a lovely right to the body from which Welborn could not recover.
Walsall's Martin Gethin failed to reclaim the vacant British title when he was stopped after seven rounds by unbeaten Mancunian Terry Flanagan due to a hurtful injury to his right ear.
A tactical battle was hard to pick until Gethin's ear swelled alarmingly and the corner decided to pull him out.